You should think twice about taking any advice Ken Seeroi’s got to give. I mean, we’re talking a guy who ditched a sensible life in a first-world country for a freezing, tiny apartment, sleeping on the floor, and eating rice with sticks. So, really? Well, it’s not so bad once I move the shochu boxes and cockroaches out of the way. Just trying to put things into perspective, you know.
How to Take a Bath in Japan
There’s a lot of information on how to do things “right” in Japan. How to take off your shoes, bow, give small gifts, blow your nose, take a bath. It’s like a country that comes with its own instruction manual. Well, guess you wouldn’t want to climb into the tub with your shoes on, so remember that checklist next time you go to the onsen. Don’t think you can just get by with awareness and common sense. That’ll never work. So now that God invented the internet, you can download all the knowledge you’ll ever need. That plus twenty-thousand dollar’s worth of plastic surgery and you’ll fit right in in Japan. You go, Kenny Rogers.
Advice for Japan
But okay, I’ll admit, it’s tempting to give advice about this country, like How to Make Rice or How to Learn Japanese. I blame Japanese people, actually. Hey, I’m just following their example, like when they tell me, Oh no, we brush our teeth like this, We hold our teacups just so, and Oh, we don’t sleep in McDonald’s. Jeez, sorry, I was just deeply meditating. Anyway, it’s a nation with many strange customs. Pass the tofu McNuggets.
Japanese Book Suggestion
So although I try not to give too much advice or “How to Japan”-type stuff, I do have one suggestion. And it’s a bombshell, so to speak. You should really think hard before you take it. Ready? Are you sure? Great, then bombs away. So I recently read this book called Hadashi no Gen, which is excellent for learning Japanese, since it’s got furigana over the kanji. And if you aren’t learning Japanese, well then it’s available in that gaijin language too, as Barefoot Gen. So maybe you can learn you some English.
Okay, let me tell you why it’s a good book, and then why you’re not gonna want to read it.
It’s good because it’s written by a Japanese atomic bomb survivor, and fairly accurately depicts the way Japanese people interact with one another. Lots of slapping and punching, in other words. So you’ll gain insights into actual Japanese life and culture, as opposed to all that Hello Kitty and Maid Cafe stuff. And it’s good because it revolves around a real event—-namely the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—-so you’re reading something based upon history instead of about like some seventeen year-old monkey-boy pirate. Yeah, I’m talking to you, One Piece. All Japanese people have read Hadashi no Gen, and if you have an ounce of interest in Japan, then this should be the book in the middle of your bookshelf.
And now for the Bad News
Now here’s why you don’t want to read it. It has all of the same graphic and disturbing depictions that John Hersey’s Hiroshima had, only with cute, cartoony pictures. If you’ve ever seen the photos and fragments of wreckage from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, well, they pale in comparison to this manga. You get to follow the lively adventures of a funny Japanese schoolboy as he loses all his hair and encounters people with skin melting off their bodies. Believe me, that’s not the worst of it. There’s some seriously mind-scarringly gross stuff in this book, and days after reading it, I was still seeing the ghosts of atomic bomb survivors wandering the streets. You probably don’t want to read it right before bed, is what I’m saying.
So it’s not an easy book to recommend. Still, you know, it’s not like the author just made all that stuff up. History happened—-for better or worse, the U.S. and Japan caused it to happen—-and we have to own it. If anything, the world needs more information, not less, about the effects of nuclear weapons. So if this book brings about that awareness, and causes us to hesitate just a moment longer, then yeah, I guess we should all read it.
Little Boy, then Fat Man
The Second World War, and the nuclear destruction of two Japanese cities, made a deep and lasting impact on the Japanese psyche. Sure, we love to say, Oh look at those wacky Japanese folks, with their crazy game shows and giant teddy bear costumes. But maybe all that way-out stuff is just hiding the pain, like Mr. T’s mohawk and gold chains. Or maybe it’s all unrelated. What am I, a psychologist? Of course, it’s impossible to say exactly how the atomic bombs left their mark on the Japanese people, but one thing’s crystal clear—they’ve in no way forgotten. And to even begin understanding Japanese culture, you’d do well to put yourself in the shoes of Barefoot Gen. Although you might want to get someone to read it to you, because I pity the fool who has to look at those illustrations. Manga on Tape, now there’s a great idea. But yeah, for this book, maybe that’d be better.